Prior to its absorption into Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company (C.E.I.), Brush Electric Light & Power Co. developed the equipment used for Cleveland's first electric streetcar line. The line was operated under the East Cleveland Railway Co., with the streetcars being powered by a Brush-developed generator. Not everybody was excited about the success that these innovations and developments brought to their inventors. Heavily involved in the city's street railways, Marcus Hanna saw the need to respond to his rivals' actions. Recognizing the immense profitability associated with street railways, Hanna famously referred to his control of such lines as his own savings bank. In order to preserve his lucrative position, Hanna quickly recognized the need to develop along with his rivals. He therefore commissioned the building of a new powerhouse to generate power for his own electric streetcar line; the Woodland & West Side Street Railway Co. (W&WSSR).
The Powerhouse was built in 1892 on the west bank of the Cuyahoga River. C.E.I., who powered the east-side rival of Hanna's west-side line, responded by building the Canal Road Station in the Flats in 1895. Thus situated on opposite sides of the Cuyahoga River, just across from each other, these two streetcar powerhouses were the only such facilities of their kind in Cleveland.
Hanna granted the commission for the Powerhouse to architect John N. Richardson, formerly of the renowned firm Cuddell & Richardson. The Scottish-born, Cleveland-based architect was regarded as one of "the most important and innovative architects in Cleveland during the 1880's." As part of Cuddell & Richardson, he designed many of Cleveland's architectural gems including the Franklin Castle, St. Joseph's Franciscan Church, the Perry-Payne building, and the Bradley building. Richardson designed the Powerhouse in the Romanesque revival style; built to resemble the European factories of the time with gabled roofs, arched windows, and thick window sills made of stone. The original structure was built in 1892, and was the first power plant dedicated to providing electricity to streetcars in Cleveland. However, the 1898 absorption of Hanna's W&WSSR into the Cleveland Electric Railway Co. (CER) resulted in a significant 1901 addition, nearly causing the Powerhouse to double in size. Despite this expansion to meet the demand of more streetcar lines, the Powerhouse did not thrive long thanks to the rapid rise of the automobile. Cleveland's streetcars officially gave way to the automobile in 1920 when the CER permanently ceased operation, and the Powerhouse closed.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the Powerhouse acted as a turnstile for several comedy clubs, restaurants, and even retailers. As of 2012, the 70,000 square-foot edifice serves as a mixed-use entertainment complex still rooted in its foundation as an industrial facility. The most recent addition to the Powerhouse is the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Funded by Jacobs Entertainment at a cost of $33 million, it was designed by the New Zealand-based company Marinescape, which has a reputation for refurbishing preexisting structures as aquariums. Paying homage to the Powerhouse's industrial past, the aquarium incorporates exposed brick walls, coal tunnels, smokestacks, and steel girders into its decor.